Canada Is Sending Patients to U.S. Funding Cuts Squeeze Hospitals and Doctors

Article excerpt

Locked in a showdown with doctors over health-care funding, Canada's largest province is arranging for pregnant women to get medical treatment in the United States.

The dispute, so bitter that many doctors in Ontario have threatened to stop taking new patients, is the latest sign that Canada's public health-care system is in trouble.

Hospitals across Canada are closing as provincial governments cut funding. Doctors are emigrating across the U.S. border in search of higher salaries. And conservative politicians increasingly are raising the once-taboo possibility of revising the health system to allow some privately funded care. The Canadian system has admirers around the world who consider it a model of a well-run state health system. But it also has detractors, including the American medical establishment and political conservatives who believe governments invariably make a mess of health care. The current problems are most acute in Ontario, where the Conservative government of Premier Mike Harris has been cutting public spending. Close to 20,000 obstetricians, other specialists and family doctors have threatened to stop taking new, nonemergency patients as of Nov. 1 if the province doesn't address their grievances. The chief issue is limits on fees; the doctors say government fee schedules no longer cover the cost of their services. Provincial officials and representatives of the Ontario Medical Association are negotiating on the funding dispute. There has been no indication a settlement is near. On Thursday, the Ontario Health Ministry confirmed it had sent four pregnant women to Grace Hospital in Detroit because they could not get obstetrical care in nearby Windsor. …